Tag Archive | Ring-billed Gull

The Friends of Fish Creek bird the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Western Headworks Canal (known to many of us simply as the Calgary Irrigation Canal, or Bow River Irrigation Canal) is an amazing area to bird any time from early spring all the way through to the beginning of autumn. The canal itself provides foraging and feeding opportunities to all varieties of dabbling ducks throughout the breeding season, while the established trees and shrubs along the edge of the canal are home to no end of songbird species throughout the year.

There is a very special time of year though, just after the first of October, when the Western Irrigation District stops drawing water from the Bow River and allows the canal to drain for the winter. It is at this time that the canal becomes prime feeding habitat for a few more exotic species. Unusual and rare gull species are often found among the flocking Ring-billed Gulls, late migrating shorebirds feed along the extensive mudflats, and the tail end of songbird migration can often bring exciting birds such as Rusty Blackbirds and the occasional Harris’ Sparrow along the edges of the canal. All of this excitement is over far too quickly for some as the water levels rapidly deplete over the course of the first two weeks following the drainage.

According to the Western Irrigation District website, “the Western Irrigation District provides irrigation water to over 400 farms and 96,000 acres of land, and supplies municipal water to over 12,000 people in four different communities through 1,200 km of canals and pipelines.  Like other irrigation districts in Alberta, the WID operates under the rules and procedures of the Irrigation Districts Act.  The WID is headquartered in Strathmore, Alberta, which is approximately 40 kilometers east of Calgary.”

On October 4th, I joined the Friends of Fish Creek to walk the canal a few days after it had begun draining. For one reason or another, this year seemed to have fewer birds than I remember in the past, and the water seemed much lower this early on than previously. That said, the walk started off on a high note while I watched this Northern Flicker feeding on berries in a shrub while I waited for the group.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 400mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Almost immediately upon reaching the edge of the canal, we began seeing some of the diverse assemblage of waterfowl that feed along the canal. The most common of course was the Mallard, with almost all of the males having returned to their brilliant green-headed breeding plumage.

Mallard

Mallard

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

A lone female American Wigeon dabbled in the shallow water, barely lifting her head to check us out as we walked by.

female American Wigeon

female American Wigeon

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

A little further on, a pair of female Northern Shoveler floated by, followed closely by a pair of female Green-winged Teal.

female Northern Shovelers

female Northern Shovelers

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Green-winged Teal

female Green-winged Teal

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

The highlight of the waterfowl though are always the Wood Ducks. A fair number of them were found feeding along the canal early in the walk. As we continued down the canal, something spooked them and they flew up the canal and our of sight. These birds are likely from the same stock found at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, where they are known to breed each year.

male Wood Duck

male Wood Duck

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

male and female Wood Ducks

male and female Wood Ducks

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 230mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

It’s always a bit of a surprise to see what shorebirds we can find down along the canal. It’s one of the best places to get good, close looks at Greater Yellowlegs, often in large numbers.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Less often though do we get Wilson’s Snipe. This year there seemed to be more than a few feeding along the canal.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

It was a little later on that we got a good look at what may have flushed the Wood Ducks earlier in the day. This female Merlin swooped in and perched in the trees right above us for a few moments before flying on and continuing her hunt.

female Merlin

female Merlin

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

There is one major benefit to the large numbers of Rock Pigeons that take residence in our urban centers here in southern Alberta, but it’s never a pretty sight to see. They make a great meal for any number of hawks, falcons, eagles and owls. Every once in a while though, one of these raptors gets chased off a fresh kill by a family of corvids. It is quite possible that this was a kill stolen from our female Merlin above, or from the Sharp-shinned Hawk that as giving us continuous fly-bys all morning.

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While we kept our ears and eyes sharply focused on the shrubs nearby, and our alertness really paid off. We heard a handful of American Tree Sparrows, saw few Dark-eyed Juncos, and caught decent looks at what are likely to be our last Yellow-rumped Warblers for the year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

It always pays off to check out the gulls down on the canal though. As we walked the canal, we found hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls feeding in the shallow water.

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

One of our sharp-eyed participants pointed out this little Mew Gull all by itself. They feed a little bit differently than Ring-billed Gulls tend to, but the real differences are the major field marks. You might note the plain yellow bill, smaller, rounded head, and overall “softer” features than the Ring-billed Gulls above.

Mew Gull

Mew Gull

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Mid-November in Pearce Estate Park – But I LOVE identifying gulls!

Posted by Dan Arndt

… said no one ever. I kid, I kid. There are a few die-hard larophiles (from the Latin larus, meaning gull, and the Greek philos, meaning to have a strong affinity for, to love, AKA people with WAY too much time on their hands) out there who spend dozens of hours each year picking through flocks of Ring-billed and California Gulls to pick out a rarity, but I certainly don’t have the patience for that. Some people draw the line at flycatchers, others at shorebirds, specifically peeps, but me, I draw mine at gulls.

Don’t get me wrong. Gulls are wonderful in their own way, but spending hours picking through hundreds of them for something a slightly lighter or darker shade of grey is not my idea of a fun time.

November 15, 2015

November 15, 2015

As fall begins to cool and the ponds and creeks begins to ice over, there are a number of large gravel bars along the Bow River where gulls begin to accumulate in numbers. Our reason for visiting this park were specifically because a couple of uncommon gulls had been reported here resting among the dozens of Ring-billed Gulls. The three species we were here to find were the Thayer’s Gull, Mew Gull, and Lesser Black-backed Gull. We did come up with the first two, but our Sunday group was a few days too late, as the Lesser Black-backed Gull hadn’t been seen since Wednesday.

Mew Gull among Ring-billed Gulls

Mew Gull among Ring-billed Gulls

This photo was taken through my Vortex Viper spotting scope using a PhoneSkope adapter and my Samsung Galaxy S5 built in camera. Can you spot the Mew Gull? I couldn’t for a good half hour. I’ve seen many Mew Gulls in British Columbia, usually associating with California Gulls but never among Ring-billed Gulls. I was expecting to find a gull with a bit of a lighter mantle, rather than darker. The Mew Gull is just a little bit to the left of center, resting with its bill hidden.

Mew Gull and Ring-billed Gulls

Mew Gull and Ring-billed Gulls

Here’s a shot of the bird zoomed in a bit closer with its bill out. It’s now obvious that the bird is a shade or two darker than the Ring-billed Gulls on the mantle, and has a tiny, unmarked yellow bill. Again, the Mew Gull is the one just a little bit left of center with the round head and dark eye. A tough spot, to be sure!

Ring-billed Gulls on the weir

Ring-billed Gulls on the weir

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

immature Herring Gull

immature Herring Gull

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

We did get a good look at many of the other gulls, including this immature Herring Gull sitting on the remains of the old weir. It was particularly noticeable due to its large size, pink legs, and overall dark plumage, but that bill shape was also a good indicator!

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

And of course, here are a couple of the ever-present Ring-billed Gulls on the water. The low angle sunlight and the perfectly clear morning sky made it a bit tough to expose correctly, but it’ll be one of the last shots I would get of any gulls until late February or early March next year. It’s surprising every year how they just seem to totally disappear around the end of November and by the time the Christmas Bird Count rolls around, they’re almost a distant memory!

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Another great sighting that day was this immature Double-crested Cormorant, who gave us a fly-by and perched in a tree across the river shortly after. This would be the latest sighting of this bird I’ve ever had, and from other reports, it is apparently sticking around a bit further downstream!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We headed a little west where earlier groups in the week had found a some Bald Eagles, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. At first, the immature eagle flew in to check us out, and a few minutes later the adult flew in and flushed the younger bird off. When I had visited the park earlier in the week, I noted that the gulls seemed to have a sixth sense for approaching eagles, flushing easily a full minute before they came into view from my angle. When you’re a gull you have to be on alert for predators, especially ones that can so easily take you out like a Bald Eagle can!

male Merlin

male Merlin

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While we were watching the Bald Eagles, we spotted this male Merlin as he flew in with what appears to be a House Sparrow in his talons. Because this part of the park is adjacent to a large residential area, it wasn’t too surprising to hear and see the House Sparrows, it was a bit of a surprise to see this guy!

female Merlin

female Merlin

::Aperture: ƒ/9|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

We walked all the way back to the east end of the park where we watched this girl fly in and perch above us. I suspect she was watching the ground for voles, as she sat there staring at the ground for quite some time while we watched.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

::Aperture: ƒ/9|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

As we watched the Merlin, a couple of Black-billed Magpies flew in and began foraging on the ground, but also keeping a sharp eye on her. They spent a good amount of time keeping an eye on us as well.

Around this time, the traffic on the pathway started to pick up due to a running race, so we headed back in to the inside of the park.

distant Common Redpoll

distant Common Redpoll

::Aperture: ƒ/9|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

One of the birds we had heard flitting about overhead for most of the morning was a single Common Redpoll. Towards the end of our walk that morning it popped up into this shrub and perched for a few minutes, giving everyone good (but distant) looks at it. While this season is a pretty good one for these birds, I still haven’t had a chance to see one up close and personal.

male Mallard

male Mallard

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

On our way out of the park, we walked past a couple Mallards in the floating fen ponds near the entrance, showing off once again their bright green breeding plumage, curly black tail feathers, and complex browns and grays. It’s nice to see them back in full colors after a few months of seeing them in eclipse plumage!

And that’s it for another week! Have a great week, and good birding!

Early October on the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

Earlier this month I was able to take part in two walks with the Friends of Fish Creek out to the Irrigation Canal that runs parallel to the Bow River through south-east Calgary. Each day had its highlights and the overall experience was really quite incredible. While there’s not quite as much activity this late in the month, the week following the initial drainage of the canal can be quite productive for a wide variety of birds. From shorebirds to gulls to songbirds, the whole walk tends to be non-stop flying, foraging and feeding on everything living in the trees along the canal and the mud within it.

Irrigation Canal - October 6th and 8th, 2015

Irrigation Canal – October 6th and 8th, 2015

Two of the most common birds we often find along this walk are the two most easy to overlook, the American Robin and the European Starling. Their colors and contrasts really stand out on a bright clear fall day, especially with the right background!

IMGP1669American Robin – ::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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European Starling – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

The Ring-billed Gulls are also one of the most numerous birds we find along the canal, aside from waterfowl, and until recent years, we’ve almost always had Bonaparte’s Gulls. We’re always on the look out for something a little more unusual, but so far we’ve failed to turn up anything less common.

IMGP1757

Ring-billed Gull – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

The main draw along the canal are the ever-present Hooded Mergansers. It’s not unusual to find at least a few males and at least a couple females cruising around feeding on the small invertebrates and fish in the main channel of the canal.

IMGP1743male Hooded Mergansers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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male Hooded Mergansers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 400mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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female Hooded Mergansers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

This late in the season we also get a good number of Greater Yellowlegs (and very rarely an occasional Lesser Yellowlegs). Even more interesting are the occasional falcons and raptors hunting them, like this female Merlin that took a dive at a large group of yellowlegs, flushing the majority of them!

IMGP1721

Greater Yellowlegs – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

IMGP1623

female Merlin – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

IMGP1617

female Merlin in flight – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

In addition to the Merlins we saw on both days at the canal, on the 8th we had a couple of interesting fly-overs. A Rough-legged Hawk and an immature Golden Eagle soared over on some high thermals, offering a few opportunities for us to identify them from below. Golden Eagles aren’t particularly common within the city limits, so my first thought was that it was an immature Bald Eagle. After reviewing the photos though, it was most certainly a Golden, which was quite an exciting find! Those broad, squared off wings, golden nape, and white patches in the middle of the underwing are really good features to look for on an immature Golden Eagle.

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Rough-legged Hawk – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

IMGP1761

Golden Eagle – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

New for me this year was a bit of variety in the makeup of shorebirds, with a fair number of Long-billed Dowitchers making an appearance, which we identified by their flight calls, and a lone American Golden-Plover, which is yet another relatively rare bird in the area, especially within the city limits!

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Long-billed Dowitchers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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American Golden-Plover and Greater Yellowlegs – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

IMGP1858

American Golden-Plover – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Our last bird of the day, and maybe the last members of this species of the season, were a small number of Double-crested Cormorants. While these birds are fairly uncommon around the city, they’re not quite as loathed here as they are in eastern Canada, so most of us still enjoy seeing them from time to time along the Bow River.

IMGP1720

Double-crested Cormorant – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

While there aren’t usually too many mammals along this route, we did find a lone Muskrat on both of our outings, in almost exactly the same spot north of the Gosling Way bridge over the canal. He (or she) was foraging and collecting grasses and stems to store away for the winter.

IMGP1499

Muskrat – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

And that’s it for another week here on the blog. Have a great one, and good birding!

Carburn Park, Part 1 – South of the Sue Higgins Bridge

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our walk last week took us to Carburn Park once again. We actually headed there this week as well, so I’ll cover the birds we found on the south end of the park this week, and the north end in next week’s post.

 

Carburn Park - April 19, 2015

Carburn Park – April 19, 2015

The Sue Higgins Bridge south of the parking lot in Carburn Park is a regular roost (and nesting location) for any number of Rock Pigeons, and you can usually find at least a few here. It was really nice to find this rather beautifully colored bird, and in great light to show off some of the iridescence on the neck.

Rock Pigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Rock Pigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

On the gravel bar just south of the bridge were over a hundred Franklin’s Gulls, and also a few Ring-billed Gulls flying by eating the freshly hatched insects flying up from the river. One of the advantages of being out so early is that the insects aren’t too high up, and neither are the gulls and swallows yet either.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Did I say swallows? Yes indeed, the Tree Swallows have really started showing up in big numbers too, and we had flocks overhead almost the whole time, wheeling and darting around and getting their fill of hatching mayflies and midges.

Tree Swallow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Tree Swallow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We followed the river edge south and came across some interesting sights, as well as the real first returning migrant Song Sparrows. We also found lots of American Robins foraging about, posing, and searching for nesting materials in preparation of the coming breeding season.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

One of the most amazing finds last week was a group of four Wood Ducks perched high up in a tree, set exactly at the wrong angle for our approach. By the time I got around to have the light in at least a little bit of a helpful angle, three of them had moved into hiding, but at least I got this lone female! Yes, Wood Ducks are tree nesting ducks. How crazy is that? They’re one of the few ducks that have strong feet and claws capable of gripping branches and bark.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Wood Duck
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

At the far south end of our walk we found another large group of Franklin’s Gulls, many showing quite a bit of pink in the breast and bright red bills typical of fresh breeding plumage. Their raucous cacophony followed us all throughout the park these past two weeks, often drowning out some of the more subtle songs and chip notes of other returning birds, but it is really great to have these birds back!

Franklin's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Franklin’s Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

On our way back we came across a couple of active nests as well, one containing a pair of Northern Flickers (and presumably their eggs), as well as a Black-billed Magpie nest, with either mom or dad standing guard and keeping a sharp eye on us.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

So that was another week with the Friends of Fish Creek. Next week we’ll see how the north end of the park treated us!

Have a great week, and good birding!

A Sunny Sunday at Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Sorry for the late update everyone! We’ll be back to regular weekly posts tomorrow morning, so consider this a double-shot to finish off the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course with a bang!

Our outing on March 22 took us to Carburn Park on a bright, sunny, but slightly chilly morning. We had hopes of possibly finding some more early sparrows in the feeders near the park, or a new gull species or two, or even some early arriving hawks, but things did seem to slow down a bit after the initial spring migration rush from the previous couple of weeks!

Carburn Park - March 22

Carburn Park – March 22

We started off heading south into the sun so we could continue the majority of our walk with the sun at our backs and upon reaching the bridge and nearby gazebo we found a bit of activity. While there were a few indicators that while spring was officially here, winter, as always in Calgary, was still holding on strong. This Canada Goose was sporting a jacket of frost and was a little reluctant to begin the day until we walked across the bridge above it.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Nearby, the House Sparrows were hard at work foraging in the gazebo and preparing their nests in the eaves. This female stopped briefly to allow a few photos before continuing on to work on her nest building.

female House Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

female House Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Quite often the gravel bars here at Carburn Park are full of gulls in the morning, and we always take a few minutes to pick through them to see if we can identify some locally uncommon species, but on this morning we didn’t have too many gulls as the fishermen had an earlier start than we did, and had flushed most of them before we really had a chance to take any good long looks at them. We did get up close and personal with this Ring-billed Gull though, so hopefully that’s a decent consolation picture!

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We headed over to the larger ponds in the middle of the park and while they weren’t open and the couple beaver and muskrat channels had closed up a bit as well, but we did hear this little Brown Creeper in the trees nearby, and managed a few half-decent shots of this normally quite reclusive bird!

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

One nice surprise of the morning were a few photos I took of what we often consider a “trash” bird. I’ve always said though that if these birds weren’t so common around here, they’d be something that people would drive for hours just to see one and all the beautiful colors they can show off in good light. This Black-billed Magpie was trying to snap off a few twigs to take back to its nest nearby when we came across it and disturbed its hard work.

Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

We ended off our walk by following the east edge of the ponds, and had a close encounter with some White-tailed Deer, a few Eastern Grey Squirrels, and this rather healthy looking Coyote that burst out of the trees well behind our group and ran across the pond. Much braver than any of us would have been, given the warm weather we’ve had all winter!

Coyote Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Coyote
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We ended off our walk looking for the Great Horned Owls who had nested right beside the parking lot the past two years, and we did manage to find this male keeping watch over the well hidden nest. Looks like he didn’t really appreciate us discovering him!

male Great Horned Owl  Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Watch this space tomorrow for our final update on the Winter Birding course!

Good birding.

 

Some Spring Sparrows at Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on March 15, 2015 was a bit chillier than we’ve been accustomed to the past few weeks, but it didn’t dampen our spirits on the slightest. In fact, we had quite a few new spring arrivals to keep us busy in the park, and to keep our eyes and ears attentive all morning long!

Mallard Point - 3-15-2015

Mallard Point – March 15, 2015

Sometimes it takes just the right light and the right conditions to make a relatively normal and common bird stand out. It was no different with the Mallards we saw occasionally at their namesake area in Fish Creek Provincial Park. With their bright green iridescent heads, bright yellow bills and curly tail feathers, they do take on a character of their own in the spring!

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were also greeted along our walk by quite a number of American Robins feeding in the nearby trees. Some on some Mountain Ash, some on local crab apple trees, and a few just sitting pretty and singing away. It’s really nice to see these guys back again! Pretty much all of the American Robins we found were males, which is exactly what we’d expect this time of year as they return from their overwintering grounds and establish territories. It’s usually the first early birds on the block that get the most coveted territories, so for them it pays to stay as close to ones own breeding grounds as possible. While many non-birders consider them the true harbinger of spring, it’s a well documented fact that there are quite a few of them that spend the winter right here in Calgary!

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

On the other hand, it’s relatively uncommon for us to have any gulls stick around over winter. They usually depart in mid- to late- November and return in early March. The two species that tend to show up the soonest are both the Ring-billed and the California Gull, both of which were present on the Bow River on our walk that Sunday morning.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

California Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

California Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were delighted to find a couple of surprises on our walk though as well, the first being a lone Song Sparrow, giving chip calls and high pitched “seep” calls while it foraged under the overhanging sections of the river bank, and in a small willow nearby. While it didn’t sing, it did respond to both pishing and a quick call playback by popping up into view allowing a few of us to get both good looks, and a few good close pictures of it!

Song Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The second was a White-throated Sparrow hanging around a yard full of typical feeder birds, both House Sparrows and House Finches. Once again it was the diagnostic chip notes that made its presence known to us, and it did take a little while to pick it out from the underbrush. Once we had it found though, a little playback of chip notes and a bit of pishing brought it out into the open as well!

White-throated Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-throated Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

On the last leg of our journey one of our group drew our attention to a hawk-shaped outline in the trees bordering on the edge of the park. Its large size and relatively identifiable coloration pointed out the species to us right away, it’s just unfortunate that a couple of walkers passed right underneath it and flushed it from its perch just as we were getting into the open. Hopefully you can make the ID on this bird as well as we were able to!

Northern Goshawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

It seems like every week more and more birds are arriving back in our beautiful city, and soon the leaves will be out on the trees and the warblers, vireos, and flycatchers of summer will be nesting, laying eggs, and raising their young!

Have a good week, and good birding!

 

Sunday Showcase: Common Calgary Gulls

 Posted by Matthew Sim

Though we see them a lot during the summer, most of us have some difficulty in identifying these guys;  so here’s a breakdown of the common Calgary gulls.

California Gull; identified by rounded head, red and black spot on bill and greenish-yellow legs. Also note completely dark eye.

Franklin's Gull, the easiest gull in Calgary as it is, for the most part, the only one with a black head. Also note the white eye-crescents and the bright red beak.

Ring-billed Gull with its namesake ringed bill is probably the most common gull in Calgary and is often seen in parking lots.I separated from the Herring Gull by its yellow legs. Similar to California Gull, which has a darker eye.

The Herring Gull is nearly identical to the Ring-billed Gull, the one big difference though is the legs. Herring Gulls have pink legs while Ring-billed Gulls have yellow legs.

Though identifying gulls can be very difficult, hopefully this helps you next time you see a gull in Calgary.

Rescuing Wild Birds

Last time I posted about a sick Ring-billed Gull found in Fish Creek Park (see post).  I wondered if it would have been accepted at any of the local wildlife rehabilitation centres. 

Ring-billed Gulls, which were in trouble in the early twentieth century, have been increasing in numbers and expanding their breeding range ever since they were given protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty in 1916.  They lay one to four eggs (more usually two or three), and have an unusually high hatch rate of nearly 80%.  It takes three years to reach breeding age, and a typical lifespan is ten to fifteen years.  So even though they do have a high rate of loss of young birds, the population has grown to the point where they are now the most common gull in North America, and are considered by many to be a pest that needs management.

Adult Ring-billed Gull in Valleyview Park Pond, SE Calgary, 2007

Nevertheless, it turns out that two of the local wildlife rehabilitation centres that I contacted would accept an injured or sick Ring-billed Gull.  The Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC), located north of the city near Madden, accepts all bird species except House Sparrows and European Starlings, non-native birds which are considered to be invasive.  The Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (CWRS), located in northwest Calgary, will accept any wildlife but discourages people from bringing in Rock Pigeons and Richardson’s Ground Squirrels.  The AIWC will send a volunteer to pick up wildlife, but you have to bring the animal in to the CWRS.

These organizations, and others like them across the province, take sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife and rehabilitate them, if possible, for return to the wild.  They typically are volunteer-based and include veterinarians and experts in wildlife rehabilitation.

If you find a bird or other animal in distress, it is important first to be able to recognize if it is really injured or orphaned, or behaving normally, and second, to be able to handle it safely.  The above organizations have excellent information about this on their websites, which is well worth reading for any birder.  If you think you might want to use these services, keep their phone numbers handy and know what to do if you find an injured bird.

I asked the AIWC if there are times in the year when they are so busy that taking common birds like Ring-billed Gulls might put too much of a strain on their resources, but they assured me that although it does get very busy sometimes, they never refuse any animal and always manage to properly look after them all.  If you find an injured bird, it is up to you if you want to pursue rescuing it.

All of the wildlife rehabilitation organizations rely heavily on volunteers, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved if you are interested in helping.  They also have regular open houses and give presentations to inform the public about their work.  AIWC recently spoke to the Bird Studies Group of Nature Calgary.

Blackjack, a Swainson’s Hawk used by AIWC in their educational presentations, at the Bird Studies Group meeting.

Here are links to the websites of some local wildlife rehabilitation organizations.

Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation

Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society

Cochrane Ecological Institute

Medicine River Wildlife Centre

Alberta Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Association

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Finding a Sick Bird

Last week I posted a picture of a bird that was sitting on a dirt path near the Bow River in Fish Creek Park (see post).  The bird didn’t move even as we approached to within a few feet.

It was a juvenile Ring-billed Gull, and clearly there was something wrong with it.  It was either sick or injured.  Gus Yaki, who was leading the outing, picked the gull up to examine it.

The gull hardly reacted.  Needless to say, you would not be able to pick up a healthy bird in this way.  Gus said that there was no obvious injury, but the bird was so thin that he could feel the bones in its breast, where the large flight muscles should have been.  It would not be able to fly.  Clearly it was unable to feed, had been starving for quite a while, and was near death.

Gus took the opportunity to explain the cruel facts of breeding bird biology: for a typical species, only half of all eggs laid will hatch; of the nestlings that do hatch, only half survive the first month; of the remainder, only half will live to one year of age.  On average, a stable population requires that a breeding pair of adults must manage to raise two offspring to breeding age over their entire lifetime, so that the offspring replace the parents.  If the number surviving to breed was usually higher, the population would explode, and if lower, it would crash.  This means that the majority of eggs and young birds fall victim to predators, disease, or other hazards.

Gus returned the bird to the sunny spot on the path where we found it, and we left it to its fate.

No one suggested we try to save the bird, but later I wondered if any of the local wildlife rescue organizations would have taken in a common bird like a Ring-billed Gull, especially one in such poor shape.  I’ll address that in my next post.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre